The Forest and Bird Protection Society is concerned that Frodo and his hairy hobbit friends with their attendant large film crews may severely damage sensitive landscapes in the Kahurangi National Park and Kepler Mire, an ancient string bog in Fiordland.
Forest and Bird's Southern Conservation Officer, Sue Maturin, said the Society opposed the Lord of the Rings being filmed in the internationally significant Kepler Mire and the glaciated karst country at Mt Owen in Kahurangi National Park.
The Society was responding to Conservation Minister Nick Smith, announcement yesterday that the filming of the movie has been granted consents to film in several areas of National Parks and Conservation land. These include 11 sites in Fiordland/Te Anau, 13 in Otago and 1 in Nelson.
Ms Maturin said the Society was disappointed to learn that the Minister has granted the entire concession. "The processing of the concession has been done in secret, it was not publicly advertised and neither the Nelson or Otago Conservation Boards were consulted."
Ms Maturin said the application has the potential to cause significant environmental damage within our national parks. "Filming in some areas will involve bringing 30 equipment trucks, 10 caravans, and up to 200 staff on to some sites for up to 9 days at a time.
"National parks are meant to be preserved as far as possible in their natural state and commercial concessions are supposed to avoid annoying other park users."
Ms Maturin said one of the sites at risk included the proposed RAMSAR Wetland of International Importance the "Kepler Mire" in the Te Anau Basin.
"This is an ancient string bog, which is made up of numerous ponds and long narrow pools separated by peat walls. The Mire is a very rare wetland type in the Southern Hemisphere, as string bogs are normally found in the Arctic."
Ms Maturin said that trampling by the actors and film crew could easily break down the peat walls and crush sensitive wetland plants. "Once damaged it is highly unlikely that the wetlands could be restored."
"Another site at risk is the internationally important glaciated karst country at Mt Owen, in Kahurangi National Park. Here there are areas of exposed marble, which are like fragile sculptures, sensitive alpine herbfields and wetlands."
"Sensitive areas of national parks should not be used for activities which could damage the qualities for which they have been protected," concluded Ms Maturin.
Forest and Bird Protection Society
P.O. Box 6230
Ph (03) 477-9677
Fax (03) 477-5232
For information contact:
Sue Maturin 03 477-9677ph(w) 03 476 1907(H) or 025 222- 5092
Excerpts from Forest and Bird's Submission to Southland Conservancy
September 30, 1999
Department of Conservation
Attention: Deanne White
Dear Mr Sanson
Concession Application - Three Foot Six Limited
Thank you for your letter of 24th September which I received on Monday 27th. Our Society is pleased to have an opportunity to comment on the above application, however we are dismayed that we only have 5 days in which to do so. The Concession covers several sensitive protected areas and potentially has a number of significant adverse effects which warrant far greater consideration than 5 days.
2.0 Kepler Mire
The application suggests that 25-crew and camera equipment will be helicoptered onto site and the 3 actors will move into the mire via boats, and will walk around on the islands within the mire. Fog effects will be created.
The application does not describe how many boats or what kind of boats will be used nor is not clear about how the boats will get to the mire, presumably they will have to be flown in. The application does not state what equipment if any will be needed to create the fog effects, nor are they specific about what filming equipment will be used. In their assessment of potential effects the company acknowledges that there may be some minimal ground damage caused by the actors walking around the mire.
The application does not consider the issue of sewage, other than to say portable toilets and showers will be used on location. This system may be impracticable for the mires.
Kepler Mire is the largest of the wetlands in the Te Anau Basin wetland complex and is the largest known string bog in New Zealand. It is a very rare type of wetland in the Southern Hemisphere as it is found mostly in arctic conifer forest in high northern latitudes. Like the Dome Mire it has been proposed for RAMSAR recognition. The Kepler Mire has the best string bog formations of all the glacially formed wetlands in the Te Anau Basin. The Mire lies in a depression between a set of low moraine hills formed by an ancient ice sheet which once covered the area. The wetland is a dome mire with the central area raised about 3metres above the margin. The southern area contains the string bog complex, made up of numerous ponds and long narrow pools. These pools are separated by fragile peat walls which are easily broken down through inadvertent trampling.
The Kepler Mire is of special value for its endemic plants, especially the Yellow - silver Pines shrubs and Pygmy Pine and several mosses which are all uncommon either locally or nationally. The vegetation above the water table is dominated by wire rush, manuka, bogpine and turpentine shrub, and sedge and sphagnum moss in the wet areas, and margins of the pools.
The wetlands are important habitat for Grey duck, New Zealand fern birds and the globally threatened Autralasian Bittern. The filming dates will coincide with the breeding season.
The vegetation is sensitive to trampling and trampling could easily break down the dam walls. These effects can cause long term damage to the wetland. These wetlands are relatively inaccessible and human impacts are minimal. Restoration of wetlands would be very difficult and probably impractical. This wetland has few weeds, although broom is an existing problem. There is the potential for weeds to spread through human use.
Forest and Bird considers that this application should be declined due to the high natural values of these wetlands and the potential for the proposed use to cause significant adverse damage. It will be difficult if not impossible for film crew and cast to avoid the sensitive areas, and any restoration would severely detract from the existing natural values.
The draft Conservation Management Strategy for Te Anau Basin states that concession will be limited to low impact day use with a maximum party size of 12 in the valleys. An exception is provided for the Mararoa River, but there is no exception for the Kepler Mire.
Decline application for filming on Kepler Mire.
Background Notes on Mt Owen, Kahurangi National Park
Mt Owen is internationally important as one of the two best areas of glaciated karst in the Southern Hemisphere and has extensive alpine karst vegetation, doline turflands and herbfields, sub alpine cedar forests and shrublands.
The area has small tarns, wetlands and turflands and other boggy ground. Such sites are particularly fragile and vulnerable to damage by trampling and heavy foot traffic from the camera crews and their equipment. The noise effects from frequent helicopter flights required to transport crew and equipment to the site affect the experience of other users.
The filming involves the erection of new structures such as a temporary bivouac contrary to DoC's own management strategy for the area.
Mt Owen's marble landscapes and landforms are distinctive and easily recognisable. The screening of the film world wide may attract increased visitors to the Mt Owen area for its own sake and/ or to see where Lord of the Rings was filmed, with further damage to the area.
DoC is ignoring its own management planning documents. As the draft management plan for Kahurangi National Park notes: "Cave and karst areas are particularly vulnerable to damage by visitors through wearing down of the sharp edged sculpting of exposed marble and bogging up tracks in wet karst forest areas." Around 30 people using the sites proposed intensively over several days has potentially much more physical impact on karst areas, vegetation and waterways than several tramping parties which pass through the area
National parks are required by statute to be preserved "as far as possible in their natural state". The Department's Visitor Strategy provides for the qualities of solitude, peace and natural quiet to be safeguarded as far as possible in all areas managed by the department. Allowing intensive commercial filming which involves heavy use of helicopters, equipment and a reasonably large group of people contradicts this ethic.
Alternative areas of karst country which may be suitable for filming occur off conservation land. These include the Whitecliffs area, near Inangahua Junction, the Tiropahi area on land managed by Timberlands West Coast Ltd, north of Punakaiki, the Cape Foulwind quarry area.